BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU basketball has been road-tripping on the struggle bus since the start of SEC play.
The Tigers are 1-6 against conference opponents, and that record doesn’t seem poised to improve with No. 25 Florida coming to town on Wednesday night. The Gators (14-5, 5-2) are the first ranked team to appear on LSU’s schedule this season, which puts the Tigers’ 9-9 overall record into its properly unimpressive context.
But anyone who has watched — or, more likely, not watched — LSU play this season knows this team has plenty of deficiencies. So many that it’s tough to determine where the Tigers are struggling the most. But with enough legwork, we were able to figure out the worst of the worst.
Here are the 5 areas in which LSU ranks the lowest nationally out of 347 teams.
LSU’s rankings: Free-throw percentage (318th), free throws made (316th), free throws attempted (306th)
The numbers: 217-of-339 (64 percent)
National leaders: Notre Dame (82 percent), The Citadel (442 made), Lipscomb (595 attempts)
Conference leaders: Vanderbilt (77.5 percent), Ole Miss (371 made), Auburn (513 attempts)
What it says about LSU: Clearly the Tigers are very bad at shooting free throws, but by itself that statistic isn’t damning. Believe it or not, No. 2 Kansas is one spot below LSU in free-throw shooting percentage.
For the Tigers, the more troubling number is the lack of trips to the line, which is indicative of an inability to penetrate to the rim and draw contact in half-court play.
Though there are good teams ranked below LSU in free-throw attempts — most notably No. 21 Saint Mary’s — there is a major difference. The Gaels have the most deliberate offense in the country, while LSU ranks 27th in average time per possession. As quickly as LSU plays, it should be drawing more fouls.
LSU’s rank: 294th
The numbers: 340 attempts
National leader: The Citadel (805 attempts)
Conference leader: Vanderbilt (479 attempts)
What is says about LSU: This is actually an example of great coaching by Johnny Jones. The Tigers don’t have the personnel to be firing 3s at will. (Which, of course, is a strike against Jones in recruiting.)
Outside of shooting guard Antonio Blakeney, LSU’s most dangerous 3-point threat is — wait for it — center Duop Reath. Reath is 8-for-18 (44 percent) from long range. It would actually make sense to give him more looks from outside, but that leaves Aaron Epps as the only person left under the rim capable of grabbing offensive rebounds.
LSU’s rank: 275th
The numbers: -1.6 per game
National leader: West Virginia (+11.5)
Conference co-leaders: Florida and Kentucky (+4.8)
What it says about LSU: On an immediate level, this tells us the Tigers are in serious trouble against the Gators on Wednesday night.
From the wide-angle lens, it shows that LSU struggles both in creating turnovers and in hanging onto the ball. The Tigers are 228th in the country in forcing turnovers (12.89 per game) and 279th in giving the ball away (14.5 per game).
Defensive rebound percentage
LSU’s rank: 293rd
The numbers: Opposing offenses get a rebound on 32.6 percent of their possessions.
National leader: Saint Mary’s (20.3 percent)
Conference leader: Alabama (22 percent)
What it says about LSU: This is one of the advanced metrics used to evaluate teams as developed by stats guru Ken Pomeroy. The success of Saint Mary’s and Alabama in this category demonstrates that it is an area that benefits more deliberate teams since the opposing offense has fewer possessions. But that doesn’t have to be the case. BYU and North Carolina each rank in the Top 50 in defensive rebounding percentage despite being in the Top 20 in offensive tempo.
Regardless, the greater point is this — LSU’s defense is exploited in large part by the second-chance opportunities it allows on the glass. This is the area in which the Tigers struggled the most since Jones kicked Craig Victor off the team, and Victor’s departure leaves little hope for recovery.
LSU’s rank: 321st
The numbers: 79.5 points per game
National leader: Virginia (53.2 ppg)
Conference leader: South Carolina (60.7 ppg)
What it says about LSU: We listed LSU’s most obvious deficiency last because we wanted to make it clear how the Tigers got here. The inability to create turnovers and the propensity to allow too many offensive rebounds creates a nightmare for LSU’s defense. Likewise, the offense’s habit of turning the ball over sets the opposing team up for easy baskets.
Taken alone, the struggles in each of these five categories would not be enough to derail LSU’s season. But lumped together — an offense that can’t score from outside or take advantage of freebies at the line combined with a defense that can’t get stops — it’s easy to see why these Tigers are doomed.